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Bedford residents attempt to restrict cell tower heights

BEDFORD — Two warrant article petitions have been submitted by citizens aimed to restrict the height of new cell towers being constructed in town, and to require significant setbacks from residential areas.

If approved by voters, the permitted height of wireless communication facilities in general residential and agricultural residential zones throughout Bedford would decrease from 130 feet to 75 feet.

The proposal would also prohibit the towers from being constructed within 750 feet of those same residential zones.

“I really think that it is important that we do something now,” said Bedford resident Kathleen Bemiss, organizer of the two petitions.

The average tree in Bedford stands about 55 feet tall, according to Bemiss, explaining the proposed 75-foot height maximum for cell towers is appropriate.

“Research shows that you should be at least a quarter of a mile to 1,500 feet from a cellphone tower,” she said of the proposed 750-foot buffer. Currently, local zoning requires a setback of the same height of the tower, meaning a 90-foot tower must have a 90-foot setback area.

Bemiss claims that Bedford zoning laws are the least restrictive compared to other communities in regards to wireless telecommunications facilities. Under the proposal, 130-foot cell towers would still be permitted in the town’s commercial zone.

Becky Hebert, planning director, said Amherst regulations permit towers to be constructed no higher than 20 feet above the tree canopy, and have a 200-foot setback requirement.

In Goffstown, the maximum height for cell towers is 130 feet, and the setback is 125 percent of the tower height.

The Bedford planning board has considered numerous proposals for cell towers on private residential property and town-owned property within the past year.

“Generally, towers are proposed to fill coverage gaps for wireless providers. In most cases, a taller tower will provide a broader range of coverage,” said Hebert. She cautioned that if the tower height was restricted to 75 feet, it could increase the amount of towers being proposed in Bedford in order for providers to fill coverage gaps.

She also explained that the proposed 750-foot setback would effectively ban new cell towers from being constructed in residential districts within Bedford because it would require about a 52-acre plot of land.

There are only about seven residential lots that large in town, and most of them are not squarely configured to allow 750 feet on all sides, according to Hebert.

If these changes were adopted, it could lead to potential legal issues, she added.

“You are not defying the Telecommunications Act by putting this in place,” argued resident Denise Ricciardi. “ … This is a way to protect us — all of Bedford.”

The council previously formed a committee to study cell towers, a group that is expected to provide some zoning recommendations late this year or early 2019.

“It has been a challenging issue for the town for the past year,” acknowledged Hebert.

Resident Steve Crowley said the proposed changes make sense, especially since there are still commercial zones where towers could be constructed in Bedford. Bemiss agreed, saying the proposal would encourage wireless providers to utilize commercial areas for their facilities instead of residential neighborhoods.

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